Figures for April released by Nova Scotia Health today show the number of people without a physician or nurse practitioner continues to grow — 142,262 people are now registered on the Need A Family Practice wait list. 

That’s up from 137,587 people in March, about a 3.4% increase in one month. 

The data show that newcomers to the province are responsible for one-third of the increase. 

“The wait list for Need A Family Practice talks about the number of people seeking attachment,” said Health Minister Michelle Thompson. “But we really want to reassure folks there are a number of ways to access care, through virtual care and through primary care clinics.”

The province is increasing the amount of information it will provide monthly to help unattached or orphaned patients find access to care. This data can be found on the daily dashboard under “Public Reporting” on the Action for Health website. . 

New data to be included on the dashboard includes:
• total visits to VirtualCare NS
• total visits to mobile primary care clinics
• total visits to Nova Scotia Health’s 19 primary care clinics
• total visits to 7 urgent treatment centres (ex: Sheet Harbour, Parrsboro, Tatamagouche where former emergency departments now see patients by appointment)
• total visits to urgent care centres (Emergency departments).

“People have put their name on the Need A Family Practice list with the expectation we will provide primary care to them and we accept that responsibility,” said Thompson. “But by putting this information out there, it also allows people to see the system is transforming and evolving. That wait list can grow but I want to encourage people to understand they have access points. As an example, if you have a complex illness and you are on that wait list, primary care clinics are available for you to get in-person care.”

Thompson said the old days where a patient saw one doctor for every question or ailment have given way to a more complex system where a person might visit a pharmacist to obtain a prescription for an infection or birth control; diabetic patients might be managed by a nutritionist; and patients with sprains and nerve pain might be treated by a physiotherapist. 

Where and how people can access care is changing and by providing more information, Thompson is hoping people will seek out someone other than a family doctor.

Since last August, nearly 61,000 Nova Scotians have registered for VirtualCare NS, where appointments can be booked for an online visits with a family doctor or nurse practitioner working in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Health operates the VirtualCare NS system, and takes bookings on a day-by-day basis. If you don’t get an appointment the first day, you start over again the following day. The Examiner has asked for any information about how many days patients are waiting (on average) to get a virtual appointment.

“Putting more information out there is a good thing, but the problem is the information is not reassuring,” said Braedon Clark, the Liberal MLA for Bedford South. He noted that since the PCs formed government 19 months ago, the wait list for people seeking a doctor or nurse practitioner has doubled while in his fast-growing constituency, the wait list has grown by 350%.

“The Minister talks a lot about access versus attachment,” continued Clark. “But the reality is that Nova Scotians want attachment. They want a permanent ongoing relationship with a family doctor that they can count on. I met with a young couple recently who came here from China two years ago with two young children. They still have no health care provider. I think this is a huge issue that is not getting any better.”

The NDP issued a news release that noted “Last month, several clinics announced they’d be closing, including multiple clinics in the HRM, such as the Southend Family Practice. The Houston government has refused to help keep these clinics open, which will push thousands more people onto the doctors’ wait list. 

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. VirtualCare NS is actually Maple which is owned (?) by Telus. My wife used it in the last week and was connected with a doctor in Ontario.

    Separately, this week I got my second dose of the Shingrix vaccine. The first dose was free in Ontario, administered by my family doctor. Here, I paid the pharmacist $22 for the prescription, $20 for the injection and $176 for the vaccine. This, after paying over $400 for senior’s pharmacare. I’m lucky that I can afford these charges but it is certainly two-tier privatized Healthcare.

  2. Governing is about choices. The health minister outlines choices/work-arounds. (ref. To Avis Glaze in educ. system appraisal) With the dr. wait list growing rapidly, these work-arounds are being encouraged. When doctors state that 80 % of what they see in office could be addressed by a specially trained RN, why wouldn’t this be a work-around.(not a nurse practitioner necessarily- just specially trained) People would still be going to the medical clinic and seeing the appropriate health professional?N.S. will not win the competition for doctors, but it could ‘win’ by creating more RN’s other than through degree granting. (Older people still like to deal with tellers at a bank rather than with technology from a notebook/computer. They also would prefer to meet in a clinic with a person who is competent rather than with someone in Brampton, Ont.) And this is just not an ‘old-person-thing. With nursing, as in teaching, many have left the profession or are out with long covid or are burning out. This absence is understandable and because of it there is additional burden on those who remain. Governing is about choices; the options the Minister has hi-lited are gov.’s choice, but not the only choices. Here’s my point in the form of a ?- why not open Schools of Nursing(two year program with incentives) again (an investment) and train RN’s and RN’s with specialized training in work within a clinic of doctors -rather than ‘dip your toes’ in the competition to attract doctors and nurses?Not all work-arounds are equal; not all ‘investment’ produces the desired returns. Maybe this is a question that a journalist might pose to the Minister of Health.